Monday, 9 October 2017

New Brunswick Bouldering Guide

Eighteen months ago, I finally gave in to the repeated requests to write a guidebook for Munson Lake.  This expanded into a comprehensive guide to cover all the established boulder problems in New Brunswick.
Cover of the New Brunswick Bouldering Guide, available here.

Today, the New Brunswick Bouldering Guide went live!  It is a 100 page digital-download, with over 300 photos.  It describes nearly 700 boulder problems over 15 bouldering locations.  There are road maps, trail maps, descriptions of each area, descriptions for each problem, topo pictures, inspirational action pictures, a history of bouldering in New Brunswick, potential future development opportunities...

You can order your copy here:

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Cypher Rubik Review Update

A few months ago I reviewed a couple of climbing shoes by Cypher.  I was very happy with the Prefix model and very disappointed with the Rubik.  I encourage you to read the whole thing here.  Since then some new information has come to light which I think is important to share:  The Rubik climbing shoes perform well on plastic.

This may not be the best comparison, as when climbing indoors I tend to wear an old and often mismatched pair of beat up climbing shoes that has exceeded their useful life on rock.  I find they're adequate for practicing moves and this spares my good rubber for the real thing outside.  Since I’ve not been at all happy with the enigma HP rubber on rock, but find them comfortably snug to wear for prolonged periods, I started using them indoors this winter.  The rubber sticks very well to plastic climbing holds.  Probably better than any of my other (new or decrepit) shoes with various Stealth, Vibram and unknown rubber formulations.  After abrading some of the soles this off-season, I wonder if they’ll be any more sensitive or gain better friction to be practical for use on real rock.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Sport Psychology for Climbers

Ten days ago, I finally sent Two Zig Zags.  I’d been working on it for over a year. Well not consistently.  There was the winter closure, and the crack was often wet in the spring, summer humidity rendered the textureless starting hold unusable, and the grease that built up on it... but still more attempts that it should have taken to consistently target the the pinch and figure out a couple of foot moves from there to the easy finish.  Especially since I’m significantly stronger and smoother than last year.

It got me thinking of the psychological factors at play for successful (or unsuccessful) redpointing. To be clear, my forte in the hard sciences of biomechanics, neuromuscular control and physiology, rather than sport-psych.  What follows is based on deductive reasoning from anecdotal experience as a coach and personal experience as an athlete.  Please leave a comment if you can contribute anything to support or refute my thesis.

There are two major things to consider.  The first is "attentional focus", which you surely are familiar with.  It could be something external like a part of hold you’re aiming for on an a dynamic move, or something internal like relaxing your breathing, or squeezing a pinch for all it’s worth until after you’ve done the next move.  Really this is just part of the learning process, emphasizing an area (of the body or move) that not as automatic as the rest (of the movement pattern or route).

The second is this thing called "optimal level of arousal".  Too much equates to anxiety, tension, perspiration, distraction.  Too little is laziness, carelessness, relaxation.  There are a myriad of techniques athletes and sport psychologists use to increase or decrease stimulation.  Though there is something to this, particularly for competition climbing, it probably gets too much credit for success in real world climbing.  I’ll explain...

Faced with a desperate situation in the mountains, the fight or flight response kicks in.  This is usually the optimal arousal for such critical events.  If it wasn’t, they probably died.  So you hear about the success of  this strategy around the campfire and read it in the mags.

When it comes to more mundane climbing tasks, such as working a project, there is more controversy.
A fairly recent article by Alison Osius, extolls the virtues of increased arousal (stress) on redpointing, and provides corroborating anecdotes by some big names in the climbing world.

There are as many examples of the opposite: success coming on days where there was no pressure, a bit of fatigue, and low expectations (low arousal).  Adam Ondra on the first ascent of La Dura Dura, for instance.  

Eventual success following repeated failures, with sporadic progress can be over-analyzed and weak links forged.  Ondra is quoted (in Rock & Ice #213) doing this very thing when discussing his success on that route.  More likely though, he just had finally deciphered all the nuances of the body movements required, and executed them without making a significant error.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Cypher Climbing Shoe Review

Time for a review of Cypher Rubik and Cypher Prefix climbing shoes.  The company is fairly new and just started producing climbing shoes this season.  I’ve owned a couple of Cypher slings for a year, and have been happy with them, but there’s not much room for innovation or error when it comes to something so basic.  Shoes on the other hand (foot?) are much more intricate.

Early in the summer, you may remember that I blew out the soles of my all-day shoes.  In anticipation of that event, I’d been trying things on at the shops both locally and on road trips, but could not find a satisfactory pair.  When the blowout occurred, it was necessary to bite the bullet, and order something online.

After much research and comparison, I settled on getting two offerings from Cypher.  The prices were really good, and I figured I’d have to order two of anything just to get the proper size anyway.  By ordering two different models, I hoped might even end up with two usable pairs.  After all, I was primarily looking for a comfortable shoe I could wear all day on easy to moderate routes.  Ideally, I’d also get something that could hold a dime-edge for a couple of specific projects at Munson Lake.

Out of the box:
     Both were ordered about a size and half down from my street shoes.  The Prefix was supple and light.  The forefoot was painfully narrow at first, but thin rands over unlined leather held the promise of a snug and personal fit once broken in.  The crinkle laces hold their tension at each eyelet, so customized cinching is a breeze.
The Cypher Prefix, with it's great laces.
     The Rubik fit perfectly, held it’s shape, and were comfortable with the velcro closure helping to secure them in place.  There is just enough padding under the straps to be comfortable without being bulky.

The Cypher Rubik is a flat lasted velcro climbing shoe.
 Early impressions:
     The Prefix, which is designed as an entry level climbing shoe or rental fleet offering, is actually quite nice. They look like Puma sneakers from the 80’s.  My toes turned red from the constriction, but less so with each use.  The rest of my foot turned a subtle green from the dye leeching out of the unlined leather.
They look like they're from the 80's, and they have a classic performance to match: Not going to win any races, but they're dependable and just feel right.
     The Rubik was still comfortable, but not at all sensitive.  I could not decide if my feet kept slipping (off of granite, limestone, basalt, and schist) because the rubber is slick, or because I couldn’t feel what I was on.  They claim it’s 4.2mm but it seems thicker.  Looking closely, it’s possible to see the deformation and rolling of the edges when trying to stand on a big crystal or dime-edge.  The Enigma HP rubber is supposed to be of higher density specifically to hold small edges.  If it was thinner might this not happen?

Final verdict:
     The Prefix smears beautifully.  The 5mm Enigma rubber is softer than that on the Rubik, but hasn't pitted either.  The fit is now customized so that they are comfortable without being sloppy or loose.  They excel on granite slabs.  With very little rubber away from the toes, these are not a good choice for wide cracks or for heel-hooking, but do ok on thinner stuff (fingers to hand).  They edge well on vertical faces.  This is probably due more to the friction characteristics, and having strong feet in narrow shoes, rather than rubber firmness or shoe stiffness. I will buy them again.
      The Rubik are disappointing, though they are very comfortable and have maintained their size and shape.  I can wear them all day and will do so again provided I’m not getting on anything hard.  I still can’t feel anything underfoot.  They skid off of every rock type I’ve tried to smear.  They don’t edge very well, unless it’s at least 1 cm thick, positive, and highly textured.  They do an ok job heel-hooking and jam pretty good too.  The velcro stays closed (I have yet to open them with my pant leg or on the sides of a crack).  The rubber is pitting. Maybe once I wear through a millimetre of the sole they’ll be more sticky or sensitive.  Maybe they just need really cold temperatures.  I will continue to use them but will not buy another pair.
All show and no go:  They are comfortable and look cool, but leave a lot to be desired in the performance department.
How they can be improved:
     I’d love to try a Prefix built on a downturned last.  The unlined upper fits like a second skin, and shaping it for more pulling power could do wonders.  Coupling this with the soft rubber, particularly if it was trimmed to just 3.5mm thick, should make an excellent climbing shoe for steep granite (where precision, sensitivity and friction are crucial to stabbing then pushing off the crystals and tiny flakes on the underside of boulders.)
     Thinner rubber might fix the Rubik. Softer rubber would definitely do the trick.  In either case, this would not be a high-end shoe (which in fairness to Cypher, is not what they are after with this model) but a decent all-round all-day choice.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Busy Week At Munson Lake Boulders

Work schedule and weather aligned nicely the week after my return.  I got out to the Munson Lake boulders five out of those first eight days.  Climbing conditions were really good too, as humidity was low and a breeze kept the bugs away.

Sunday I scrubbed and worked a long balancy traverse, put up a new problem and climbed a handful of moderate to hard classics.

Tuesday was labour intensive, as I dug ditches, repaired the road, pulled alders, trimmed overgrown trails, and hauled rocks to build up a landing.
Most of the recent efforts have focused on a cluster of 4 boulders in the Megacrystals
Area.  Here you see Pierre on the rather small Mammoth (V1) boulder, with the backside of Wicked Lester to the left.
I spent most of the Thursday scrubbing in the Megacrystals area, and did some more trail work as well.  As the sun was beginning it’s descent, I was establishing three first ascents, and working a couple others (including that long traverse from Sunday, but without success).
On the back of these two of the new slab problems, is a unique V3 named The Hawks.
Arguably the nicest of the new problems, these V4's demand power and precision. 

Pierre and I camped on the weekend, and added seven more problems on Saturday.  Sunday, Shawn and Denise joined us for some laps on the classic problems.
Shawn nearing the end of the Gutterball traverse on the Kingpin Boulder at Munson Lake, NB.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Shagg Crag Is Highlight Of Road Trip

I booked off a week from work to take a casual climbing road trip through Maine, into the Eastern Townships, and back.  Shagg Crag, Maine was the first destination, where I met up with fellow NB’ers Dom, Marty, PJ, and Kristen.  Since I was coming from the northeast, rather than taking a long loop around to join the directions provided in the guidebook (suggesting an approach from the North Conway area to the SW) I decided to take a tertiary road south from Dixfield.  In actuality it was a mishmash of unmarked seasonal roads that were under construction in many places.  Countless long driveways, private roads, ATV trails, and logging roads branched off of the public road and most appeared more travelled.  The locals were very helpful and I made my way to the trailhead without too much backtracking.  When one lady’s directions included the caveat “The dirt road is in good shape, but you might not be able to get past the paved portion with that car. You really need a truck.” I was a little worried.  But my nimble little car wasn’t weighted down and I managed to pick my way through without damage.

Next time, I’m sure I won’t have difficulty navigating this, assuming I arrive before dark.  I don’t recommend this route to new visitors. Instead, drive another twenty or thirty minutes and go through Rumford Point.  It’ll probably save you time in the long run.

A long and steep hike leads to a spectacular clean white cliff riddled with stainless steel perma-draws.  The routes flow nicely since they follow obvious lines of bulges, rails, cracks, dihedrals, or aretes.  Nothing seems forced or contrived.  The moves flow.  The rock is solid with a sticky texture that isn’t too abrasive.  Big jugs provide rests and stances from which to work out the next sequence, so on-sighting is a reasonable expectation -though the pump from such steep climbing works in opposition.
Shagg Crag, ME

On our second day, after we’d climbed a few easier routes and we were tying in to start working something harder, the skies opened up.  Such a big overhang should of protected us, but this unrelenting downpour turned the trail into a stream.

Even after moving our gear to higher ground, Marty had to dig a trench to keep the base from flooding.

The waterfall flowing over the cliff began to trickle down the overhang a few centimetres at a time.  One by one our projects got soaked.  Our climbing day was basically done, so we went back to the campsite, and goofed around in the pond.

The next day, since the others were leaving for home, we decided to visit a nearby crag with a shorter approach.  This place obviously does not get much traffic, but it looked pretty cool nonetheless.  We took turns fighting the relentless pump on a route that follows funky blocky holds (mostly fat pinches and undercling) up a 35m wall a few degrees on either side of vertical.

They went to NB, and I headed north for a couple quick hikes at beautiful Grafton Notch State Park, then onward to Sherbrooke, Québec.

I spent a rest day visiting with family, and the next I went to climb at Orford (sorry, no pics).  I was warned that the boulders were a little overgrown and not that impressive.  Both were true.  I managed to have fun, even though I skipped some of the nicer looking problems as I was lacking a spotter.

Later in the afternoon, Mikaël joined me as my guide and belayer for the sport climbing.  Odd features, hidden holds, and a lack of texture make for beta-intensive climbing ideal for those who love to work routes, then put together a well rehearsed and choreographed ascent.  There is less appeal for instinctual climbers such as myself, so it was really nice to have the services of Beta Mike (as Dom dubbed him) to talk me up some of the routes.

With rain forecasted for the next few days, I decided to drive home on Friday morning.  And what a lot of rain it was!  About an hour after crossing the border, it alternated between heavy and monsoon the rest of the way (and took 9 hours).  It was warm though, so I did stop for a fun 90minute hike that was more like a shower.
The partially obstructed view from the Eyebrow trail which branches off of the Appalachian Trail, as it passes through Grafton Notch State Park, Maine.

All in all it was a great trip.  I look forward to revisiting Shagg Crag in particular.  Hopefully this fall.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Endurance Bouldering

It was a slow start to the day yesterday, but I had the urge to do the western bouldering circuit at Munson Lake, NB.  Though it was very hot (over 30º), the humidity was below 80%, so even though climbing hard was out of the question, I thought it might be possible to climb a lot.

I arrived at lunch time, and found a patch of shade suitable for a picnic.  Afterwords, I grabbed my gear, and started the clock...

I chose a sequence that would distribute the shade breaks, and tried to time the attempts at the slabs and slopers when they were not in direct sun, or immediately after a break.  Since the circuit was first completed, a few new problems have gone up that are appropriate to be included, so those were added.

Starting off along Roadside (I Think I Tore My Sack, I Skinned My Knee..., Charyotte, R-U-N-N-O-F-T, and Sugar Ditch), I worked my way to and through Cornerstones (Roy Toy, Gutterball, Rubberman, Sideshow Bobbed, Cheese Grater Accident, Munson Burner, Le Pro, Curvy Trunk Cedar, HandSOME, HandLESS, Tongue Exercises, Rails Direct) in the first 80 or 90 minutes.  Due to effects of heat on rubber, my shoes did not stick well to the smears and crystals of Sideshow Bobbed, which took me quite a few attempts.  This was also when the heat started to affect me.

In need of shade, I went to Sue Boy (Big Foot, Ghoti, Ghoti, Banane, Multiple Choice, Oral, Junior High, Elementary, Edgecation, Rash, Headache, Mocking Bird, Eye Burst.  High School, which was done in the original version, has been removed from the circuit since it can't be safely protected with only a single pad.) where I tried to relax between climbs and allow some body heat to dissipate, with only marginal results.

Next I went to the Slab Area (Flail, Mace, Pepper Spray, Nutmeg, Husk Musk, Dalle Inversée, Stop That, I'm Brian and So's My Wife, Slab Mois Ça, That Stinks) where the deer flies destroyed any hopes of repose in the tiny patches of shade.

The long walk back to the car was accompanied by a welcome breeze, and some shade provided by the crash pad.

Time for another picnic at Hidden Wall, this time in full shade and with the occasional gust of wind. It was at this point that I realized my skin was holding up quite well, despite feeling like it was thin.  Upon closer inspection, I saw what the problem was:  Blisters!  I've had flappers, slices, punctures, abrasions, peeling tips... But blisters?  The chalk should keep the skin too dry for that, but it wasn't doing a very good job and three fingertips were blistering.  I decided to carry on (Pinch Overhang, Red Belly, Vlad You Are There, Rock Hog, Unnamed) and peeled off part the sole off of my right shoe, in the process.  Due to heat and constant wear, the rubber was delaminating from the leather.  And warm soft rubber doesn't smear well, yet the occasional sharp crystal can bite deep.  It was bound to happen.

The home stretch was in full sun (Use Your Mussels, The Clam, Four Peckered Bull, Taurus, Dunce Cap and finally, Secular Undercourse) which brought skin and rubber limitations to the forefront.  I made my way to the water, dunked, then stayed to cool off and relax.  Total time was 4 hours and 19 minutes, in which I completed 51 boulder problems.  That's just over 5 minutes per boulder problem.  The bar has been raised!